Image: Couple arguing © Randy Faris, Corbis

Related topics: children, family, financial planning, love and money, marriage

Nancy Michaels was 40, a mother of three and a successful businesswoman when her husband of 16 years told her he wanted a divorce. Beyond the emotional cost that followed his announcement, Michaels eventually found herself shocked by the price tag as well: more than $100,000 in legal, medical and moving costs.

"I hadn't planned for his departure," she says. "I wish I had. . . . Having a safety net or money set aside is smart."

How much does a divorce really cost for the average American? Every situation is different, experts say.

"There's an old saying: 'Love is grand. Divorce is 20 grand,'" says Ginita Wall, a certified public accountant and a divorce financial planner. "The best time to get divorced is when you have nothing -- no kids, no property. He takes the CD player. She takes the TV. And they drive away in their leased car."

Every year, nearly 2.8 million people in the U.S. go through the emotional and financial trauma of divorce, says Wall, who estimates that most of those marriages end before the 10-year mark.

Where the money goes

For average couples, divorce360.com estimates a divorce could cost anywhere from $53,000 (for a couple making $60,000 with at least one child and an $185,000 home) to $188,000 (for a couple making $150,000 a year with at least one child and a $535,000 home).

What's included in those figures? Attorney fees, the cost of selling the home, the cost of buying a cheaper home for one spouse and renting an apartment in the same area for the other, short-term marriage therapy and 20 weeks of therapy for the child. The cost of child support isn't included because many of those costs would have been incurred anyway if the spouses had remained married.

"While there is no true typical divorce, the point here is there are many hidden costs -- selling your home, hiring an attorney (or two), financial advisers, a new mortgage -- it all adds up," says Cotter Cunningham, the CEO of divorce360.com.

More assets, more expenses

The cost of divorce increases with the amount of money a husband and wife make each year, the more assets they've accumulated (from a home to retirement funds), the number of children they have and the length of time they've been married. Geography makes a big difference in the costs for emotional, financial, legal and real-estate help to get through the process, experts say.

A divorce gets even more expensive if a spouse lets anger get in the way of letting go. New York psychotherapist Jay Granat says he has seen clients take as little as six weeks or as long three years to settle a divorce.